From Chris Dodds
Well that got crazy didn’t it. $1.6 billion dollars in the Powerball lottery! I never had any intention of buying a ticket, but I have to admit I did spend a couple of moments thinking about what it would be like to win and how I’d spend the money. Did you? Mostly I thought about how I could give it away, and going by the interviews on the nightly news, this was a common thought. It seems that the opportunity to give out of an abundant wealth really resonated with people, and that as a nation we like the idea of generosity and giving, but what happens to this impulse when we don’t feel so rich?
In our reading this morning Jesus was in the temple and when he looked up he saw people putting their gifts into the offering box. The first group of people he saw was the rich (v1). On the surface they seemed generous, and so it is in stark contrast that Jesus also notices the poor widow who puts in two small copper coins - a relative pittance (v2). Shockingly, he then turns to his disciples and tells them that she has put in more than all of them (v3). How can that be? Does Jesus have no understanding of basic economics? Without waiting for their questions he gives them the reason: The rich make their contribution out of their abundance, but she, out of her poverty, and by using all that she had to live on (v4). There are a couple of things that have struck me as I reflected on this passage this morning:
- So often when it comes to the start of a new year and we take the time to write up a budget it’s tempting to go through all of our expenses and perceived needs first, and then to consider how much we will give based on what we have leftover. If this budget doesn’t add up we may even conclude that we have no capacity to give at all. This was certainly my approach when I first started my walk with the Lord, yet if we consider this poor widow, her giving isn’t a leftover from a budget. She gives as a first priority, even though it is incredibly costly. It is this sort of giving that Jesus notes is worth more. In God’s economy the true value is in the sacrifice of the giving, and so the good news for us is that this means we can give in a way that has great Kingdom value even if the amount is small in others’ eyes. Our culture may look back and remember those who have given large amounts out of their wealth – perhaps through trusts or buildings named after them, but instead, we can look back in wonder and praise of this unnamed woman and celebrate the way her giving truly reflects God – a God who gave freely and sacrificially, even at the cost of his only son. This is true Kingdom giving and the type we are called to as followers of Jesus.
- The widow’s giving shows an incredible faith in God. If we consider the place of this text in the wider narrative, it comes just after Jesus has condemned the Scribes and Pharisees, who despite their outward religiousness “devour widows’ houses” (20:47). We see that the money the widow was giving was, in a sense, going into a now corrupt and unjust system. As we’ve seen in our study in Deuteronomy, the giving system was meant to assist widows and the poor and destitute, yet instead the rich were getting richer at her expense, using God’s resources for their own glory. I would have forgiven the woman for being cynical of such a system and for reluctance to even give. I’ve often heard people today talk cynically about giving to churches and charities, and who pay taxes reluctantly because we see the misuse of such funds. Remarkably however, the poor widow gives anyway! Why? I suggest it’s because her faith and hope was never actually in the system but in God himself. Her gift was therefore also for Him alone. Maybe her faith was such that she knew God as the gracious and generous Father Jesus talks about in Matthew 6 who feeds the birds and clothes the lilies, and so without fear and anxiety was able to trust him even with her last two coins? Or perhaps it was because her situation was now so utterly desperate that she casts her final two coins at his feet in total trust in his goodness and provision? Either way, her faith isn’t in a better system or better governance, but in the character of God Himself. She can trust him down to her last two cents. (As for those who act corruptly and unjustly? Jesus has already said they will receive a greater punishment - 20:47).
In these four short verses then, as well as true Kingdom giving, this poor, unnamed widow shows us true Kingdom faith. Our culture may be blind to see such things, but the Lord is not.
If I think about the lottery again after reflecting on these verses, it may be true that if I won I could have given huge amounts of money away, but this would have really cost me very little. As followers of Jesus we need to be willing to give even when it’s costly and not just out of abundance. Secondly, at times we may be tempted to put our faith in a reformed economic system or a national lottery for our security, but our true hope and security, and therefore our true faith, ought to be in the Lord, the one who truly cares and provides.